It's time for step 2: Run differently.
Once you're running regularly 5-6 times a week and focusing on relaxing more on your runs then you need to start thinking about how to progress. Running easily is a great way to progress and if all you do is build that up consistently you will make huge strides forward. You can super-charge that performance though with a combination of just 4 different sorts of runs. This piece will introduce one of them as the first step to getting you running faster. These two are what I'd define as "basics" running where you improve your basic running ability and they'll be followed up by the other two where you fine-tune the motor. Each of these sessions is prefaced by a 15 minute warm-up of very easy running and a 15 minute warm-down. You can opt whether to stretch after this warm-up. Generally I prefer to stretch at other times and when doing core but some prefer to do it now.
The general running paradigm, greatly simplified, is that each runner has a given VO2 maximum which measures how much Oxygen you can take in and use. From this each runner can maintain a certain percentage for an hour in terms of limiting the build up of lactate - otherwise known as their lactate threshold. This is further complicated by different runners using a different VO2 volume at different paces so as one runner might run at 6mm at a VO2 of 60 whilst another at a VO2 of 65 - this is known as running efficiency.
I'll expand on this in a later post but essentially you can improve your performance by increasing your VO2 max, LT or lactate threshold or RE running efficiency. Threshold or tempo running improves your LT primarily or the %age of your VO2 max you can maintain for an hour but also has significant but lesser benefits for the novice runner of VO2 max and running efficiency at 5k-Marathon paces.
Threshold running is running at a pace that you can hold for approximately one hour. As a rough guide use the following paces based upon your 10k time...
40:00 -> 6:30
42:30 -> 6:55
45:00 -> 7:20
47:30: -> 7:45
50:00 -> 8:10
If your 10k is between these then interpolate.
It is better to introduce these gradually. In the first week (with the usual 15 minute warm up and down) replace one of your normal runs with a mile at the pace suggested above, run for 5 more minutes easily, another mile at the pace above. The next week after the warm-up, run for 15 minutes at the pace above. Finally graduate onto doing a 20 minute tempo run.
This is all you need to do at present. The aim of this run (and this training in general) isn't to be killing yourself- it's to be making consistent strong gains in your aerobic ability. Many choose to hit runs of this type at a very hard pace and leave themselves exhausted. When you get a chance watch the elites run on the TV at one of the major marathons or in a major 5,000 or 10,000. How hard do they look to be working? Barely at all most of the time. The key is to learn how to float through a race- not muscle through it. There will be a time to kill your body in tough work-outs but it's certainly not right now.
Whilst tempo running the aim should be to feel like you're running at a relaxed but fast pace. If you feel like you're overly straining then ease off slightly- whether you run at 6:00 or 6:15 or 6:30 isn't a huge issue as long as you feel you're working at a decent aerobic level. Fairly soon you will find it much easier to relax into this pace and hit the right pace instantly. That said I've regularly been guilty of messing up my tempo pace but the trick is to try and run by feel and get into a rhythm.
If you're training for any race distance between 10k and the marathon these sessions will be the staple of your sessions.
So right now we have a weekly schedule that looks like...
5 x 40-60 minute easy runs
1 x 15 minute warm-up, 20 minutes @ threshold, 15 minute warm-down
In the next part we look at the second session that is part of our "basics" - Strides - I'd suggest integrating this into the second week of your "tempo" build up.
Right - that's it for now. Catch you on the trails.